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Amazon’s Jeff Bezos pledges to help WHO flood the world with coronavirus test kits

Alan Boyle
WHO meeting with Jeff Bezos

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the World Health Organization’s director-general are trading ideas on how to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control, using tools ranging from Amazon Web Services’ firepower in cloud computing and artificial intelligence to distribution channels for coronavirus test kits.

Bezos recapped today’s talk with Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in an Instagram post, featuring a screengrab of Bezos’ videoconference view with the billionaire’s own visage in the upper right corner of the frame:

Bezos gave top billing to the assistance that Amazon Web Services is providing to WHO and its Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources, the U.N. agency’s initiative to track trends in epidemiology through AI-enabled analysis of tens of thousands of news reports from around the globe.

AWS has pledged $20 million in support, mostly in the form of in-kind credits and technical assistance, for the development of new tools that can detect and diagnose COVID-19. It’s also part of a consortium organized by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and IBM to put high-performance supercomputers on the coronavirus case.

Meanwhile, Amazon Care is handling deliveries and pickups of at-home coronavirus test kits for the Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network, which is tracking the spread of the virus in the Seattle area.

Is Bezos thinking about doing more? That’s hinted at in his reference to “the urgent need for collective action to produce and distribute plentiful COVID-19 test kits.” Producing the kits probably doesn’t play to Amazon’s strengths, but distributing them probably does.

“A surplus of fast, effective, easy-to-access test kits would flatten the curve and protect people around the world,” Bezos wrote. “I told Dr. Tedros we will continue to help WHO in every way we can in the coming weeks and months.”

Tedros hinted at other ways Amazon might help in his own social-media commentary, posted to his Twitter account:

We’ve asked Amazon for a status report on the company’s coronavirus initiatives, and will update this report with anything we find out. In the meantime, here’s more information about WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

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